Digital strategy for the world we live in

Don’t Write for Clarity

I was reading this great post from Nat over at Decisive Flow and it reminded me of working as a technical writer and dealing with a particularly verbose computer analyst (let’s call him "George").

Now George was an intense young man and was having some difficulty in working with a writer. It was nothing personal … it was simply that we were working through some procedural documentation and it was very important that the document was correct. It was, after all, a "mission critical app, man" (who says that anyway?).

We had almost completed the document when George came to my office and explained that there was a new function that we had to urgently incorporate into the document. So I pulled up the document, ascertained the best place for the material and turned to George who began dictating some text. As I typed it became obvious that the text was becoming, with every word, a veritable hodge podge of jargon, keywords and acronyms that made no sense had no punctuation and was becomingvirtuallymeaningless. (Sorry couldn’t resist.)

So I stopped.

George kept going. Then stopped.

I looked him in the eye and asked him to describe the task. He looked at the screen and began reading what I had written. "NO", I said, "what is the task?". After a deep breath, George was able to explain the task that needed to be performed. I was then able to write it in a procedural format.

It made me realise that many people don’t write for clarity, they write in a way that is "designed to be clear". Unfortunately, this often means that extra words and jargon creep into your writing. It is only by listening first that you can write clearly … so when you are writing, try to listen to the sounds that are made in your own head. Don’t write for clarity … write for understanding.

S.

One comment

  1. Gavin, this is a really good idea/point, thanks for offering it up to the world.